Making ink: an unexpected cookbook review

In my reviews, my focus so far has been cooking and exploring the world through cookbooks. I love to do both. When I visit a new city I like to find at least one experience of eating somewhere local, somewhere that carries a sense of place. It might be a place with regional cuisine, or not, and it might even just be a place that seems settled into its particular neighborhood. I enjoy venturing deeper into neighborhoods of a city I’m already very familiar with, too, and if I can walk there, all the better. Walking is my favorite way to discover.

When I picked up Make Ink: A Forager’s Guide to Natural Ink Making, I was not thinking about food, but I was pretty psyched to find that it is in fact a cookbook with discovery-by-walking at its heart. Author Jason Logan, founder of The Toronto Ink Company, includes at least a dozen recipes for making ink with materials found while foraging in urban areas. It’s not cooking food, true, but it is a cookbook that appeals to this designer nonetheless.

I took it home, excited to try ink-making and to share it with my kids. I didn’t have a chance to actually make ink as my boys, ages 14 and 11, devoured the book and set up shop like little mad scientists. They foraged in local parks and the kitchen pantry for some of the materials listed. They ordered tiny apothecary bottles from Amazon. They set about measuring and pouring and soaking and straining until at least a couple attempts paid off with ink for drawing and painting. They have further plans to make gifts to share with friends. This flurry of creative output was an unexpected and delightful result of picking up another cookbook with a curious mind.

Besides the recipes, Logan writes about foraging and sourcing like a botanist, as well as describing – in scientific but very approachable fashion – different methods and materials. He includes information on species of plants and various of metals. He talks about making ink with everything from acorn caps to turmeric, copper oxide to cigarette butts – though mom wouldn’t let the boys try this one despite the plea, “But we could clean up the park and make something beautiful!” One favorite recipe included making charcoal from collected vines. We buried an Altoid tin full of the vines deep in the fireplace and made ink with the resulting coals. For us, the ink came out like a black version of sepia, rich and smoky gray, evocative of its journey.

Logan approaches his topic from an illustrator’s perspective, but even more, from that of a curious wanderer and collector of found objects. My favorite food writers and recipe-makers have the same qualities. And, also like them, Logan invites the reader into his interests with generosity and a sense of creating something wonderful. 

Additional notes:

  • The recipes are easy to follow, though some materials may be harder to find than others.
  • As this is not food you'll be cooking, an experimental approach won't be too risky and surprising discoveries await.